Top 10 laptops to replace your desktop PC

Bigger, heavier laptops with large screens (16 inches and above) can incorporate powerful hardware you won't find in smaller, lighter models. Most of these laptops are as powerful as a desktop PC

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Rating:

rating_icon_4_stars.gif

Pros:
Impressive performance
Very good audio playback quality

Cons:
Video playback is a little noisy
Keyboard is mushy

Bottom Line: Origin's EON 17-S offers excellent performance, but it stumbles a bit on the ergonomic side.

REVIEW:
The Origin EON 17-S is unabashedly a desktop replacement laptop. It's big and bulky, though it weighs a bit less than older, similar systems at a little over 8.5 pounds without the power brick. (Note that the large, 220W power supply weighs about 2.5 pounds all by itself.) On the surface, it's a generic 17-inch laptop with some additional amenities, such as a discrete Nvidia GTX 460M GPU, a high-performance solid-state drive, and the top-of-the-line Core i7-2920XM quad-core processor from Intel's 32nm Sandy Bridge CPU series.

Once you get past the generic look, you'll find a highly capable desktop replacement notebook with a few quirks. For one thing, Origin chose not to implement Nvidia's Optimus technology, which can automatically switch between the lower-power Intel HD Graphics built into the Sandy Bridge CPU core and the higher-performing discrete GPU. This omission probably accounts for the EON 17-S's relatively short battery life in PCWorld Labs testing--just 2 hours, 18 minutes.

On the other hand, the EON 17-S delivered the highest WorldBench 6 score we've yet seen from a laptop, a stunning mark of 197. The 2.5GHz Core i7-2920XM can run as high as 4.5GHz in Turbo Boost mode, thanks to some overclocking modifications by Origin PC. The laptop's bulky chassis may detract from the overall aesthetic, but it also provides for greater airflow, allowing the Intel CPU to maintain those higher Turbo Boost frequencies. Having 16GB of fast DDR3 memory doesn't hurt.

The downside to the discrete GPU and high-performance CPU is noise. The fan noise emanating from the EON 17-S is pretty loud--not the loudest I've heard, but loud enough to be distracting, even when the laptop is idle.

Gaming performance is more limited, probably due to the GTX 460M GPU. Origin does offer higher-end GPUs as an option, but the system is already priced north of $3400 (as of August 5, 2011), so bear that in mind. You will see fairly good frame rates at the full 1080p resolution if you dial the graphics-detail settings to one notch below maximum, leave antialiasing off, and keep shadow quality to medium in the more strenuous games.

Origin includes plenty of ports, including five USB ports. Three--of which two are USB 3.0 capable--are on the left side. One combo eSATA/USB 2.0 connector is on the rear, and one USB 2.0 port sits on the right side. Also on the left side are a FireWire four-pin connector and an SD Card slot. The right side houses the Blu-ray drive plus three audio jacks, which can be configured as combo jacks. The laptop handles digital video output through HDMI and DVI connectors on the rear; it lacks a VGA connector, but that won't be missed.

One of the more interesting amenities is Bigfoot Networks' Killer wireless 802.11n network card. The Killer's claim to fame is that it offers lower latencies and higher throughput than standard network controllers do. My experience is that the Killer works as advertised--but it mostly doesn't matter, since you won't notice the difference. You do get a lot of granular control over your machine's 802.11n Wi-Fi capabilities, if that's something you crave. The EON 17-S includes gigabit ethernet, but lacks both Bluetooth and 3G/4G wireless networking.

Audio quality through the built-in speakers is quite good, after you enable the THX TruSurround software optimization tool. Beyond activating TruSurround and making sure it's running, you don't need to do anything else. Music and movies sound richer and more full-bodied than they do when the speakers are running in stand-alone mode. Even so, the sound system suffers from a lack of bass, so you'll want good headphones if you crave more robust audio.

Video playback--both high-definition Blu-ray material and DVD upscaling--looks a little on the noisy side. It's not too distracting, but you'll see it if you're looking for it, especially when comparing the results to those of similar systems running Intel HD Graphics or an AMD discrete GPU. Motion smearing is evident, but also not distracting.

A fast, 256GB Crucial SSD is the primary boot drive; a 750GB, 7200-rpm Seagate drive is included for secondary storage. Origin also throws in a Blu-ray read-only combo drive, and you can get a Blu-ray burner as an extra-cost option. The EON 17-S ships with PowerDVD 11 for full Blu-ray 3D support. Origin didn't configure user folders to live on the secondary drive, however, so you'll need to do that heavy lifting yourself.

The keyboard has a slightly mushy feel, and pressing down keys seems to require some force. The keyboard spacing and layout are both excellent, though. The touchpad isn't overly sensitive, so your hovering palm won't send the pointer shooting across the screen. On the other hand, while the touchpad supports multitouch gestures, its gesture recognition wasn't particularly reliable.

Overall, the Origin EON 17-S offers superb performance in general-purpose and media-authoring environments, and better-than-average performance in most games. It's pricey, though, at around $3400 as tested. For that amount of money, you get a system with lots of RAM, fast storage, and an impressive CPU. All of that makes up somewhat for the laptop's relatively undistinguished appearance and excess bulk.

Sony VAIO F-Series (VPCF215FX)
Sony VAIO F-Series (VPCF215FX) Review, by Loyd Case April 28, 2011

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